Return to Japan 2013: July 14 – Drinking in the danger zone

Beer and Yakitori in Koriyama

Beer and Yakitori in Koriyama

My former roommate and coworker Azeroth left Japan a few years ago to return to the US. Last year he returned to start working for a rival English conversation school. His new home is in Koriyama, located about 60km due west of the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear reactor that had a meltdown in 2011. Having never need north of Nikko before, I volunteered to travel to Koriyama to visit. Since Koriyama is just outside of the evacuation zone so it is considered “safe” by the government, but I was still happy to only be going for one day.

The easiest way to get from Numazu to Koriyama is to take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Tokyo and then switch to the northbound Tohoku Shinkansen. Since I was on vacation and not expected until mid afternoon, I chose a route with 4 trains instead. From Ooka I took the scenic Gotemba line to Matsuda. At Matsuda I had 5 minutes to leave the JR station, walk across the street, buy a ticket at Shin Matsuda station and then get on the Odakyu line for Shinjuku. The Gotemba line train was full of Mt. Fuji climbers, so getting to Shin Matsuda station on time involved weaving in and out of crowds of backpack wearing climbers with big sticks and a questionable rush in front of a bus. I got my ticket and got to the platform with seconds to spare, jumping on the first train I saw. Unfortunately for me, this train was going the wrong way. I would have noticed right away, but I was in the middle of a good book. It’s a good idea to bring a book when traveling, but you should always make sure you are going the right way before you start reading.

My train ended in Odawara. Fortunately I had a few minutes before a limited express Romance Car train was going to leave for Shinjuku. I bought a ticket and settled into a nice cushy window sweat. The Romance Car is Odakyu’s version of a green car, but is part of an express train that only stops at the biggest stations. “Romance” is a bit of a misnomer because the children running up and down the aisle are hardly anyone’s idea of romantic.

The entire distance from Odawara to Shinjuku is almost continuous city. The only difference is that the city gets much more dense as you approach Shinjuku until it reaches a critical mass of high rise buildings stacked on top of more high rise buildings. At Shinjuku station I switched to the Shonan Shinjuku line for the first time ever. It is a unique train in that it doesn’t have it’s own line, instead running on other passenger and freight lines. I was able to cover a lot of ground quickly until my destination at Omiya station. At Omiya I boarded the Tohoku Shinkansen for Koriyama.

I had never been to a Japanese city like Koriyama before. It is an inland city on a small plains area between mountains to the east and west. Unlike the greater Tokyo area, there is actually some (mostly) empty space before the next city starts. I was met at the station by Azeroth who took me for a brief walking tour of the area around the station and a stop at the 23rd floor of the planetarium building to get some city pictures.

The next order of business was getting beer and snacks at Don Kihote. One of Azeroth’s most valuable contributions as a roommate was his ability to recommend good snacks and drinks. We stocked up and went to his apartment to kill some time. His apartment was small, even for Japan. For those who work in an office, imagine the total space that 4 cubicles would take up. Now imagine that one of those cubicles was a bathroom, and the other 3 were an open space that functioned as the kitchen, dining room, living room and bedroom. That’s how small Azeroth’s apartment was. At this point I was very happy that I booked a hotel near the station for the evening.

And thus the drinking began.

We had a beer at the apartment and went to Azeroth’s current favourite place, an izakaya that was decorated in a 1950’s Tokyo theme. There were old movie posters everywhere and classic 50’s Japanese music was blasting out of the speakers. The izakaya was mostly full, but since Azeroth was a regular we were able to get counter seats. For traveling so far, Azeroth treated me to a 2 hour nomi-hodai (all you can drink) and izakaya food. I had 3 large beers and an excessive amount of meat on sticks before we got the last order warning. With my beer fueled Japanese language skills I asked the waitress for her recommendation. She recommended a peach fizz. Azeroth made fun of me in two languages for ordering a girl’s drink. It may have been a girl’s drink, but it was f**king delicious!

The next stop was a nearby modern styled bar. It was a Sunday night, so we were the only customers. The 3 bartenders knew Azeroth well and immediately started calling him by his nickname imoyaro, which could best be translated as “potato bastard”. We had a beer and then two special gin tonics. The karaoke microphones came out, and the staff encouraged the drunk gaijins to rock out. I pulled out classics like “Baby Got Back” and “Baby One More Time”, and then we got one of the bartenders to rock out on X Japan. At this point, despite me spilling half a drink, we decided that scotch was a good idea for some reason. Fortunately the remaining few sober brain cells that I had left suggested that it would be a good time to leave.

You know you are good friends with someone when you can go years without seeing them and then pick up right where you left off the last time. I am fortunate to know a few people like that before, during and after my Japanese adventures.

After the bar we had a slightly crooked walk to the convenience store for snacks and went to hang out at Azeroth’s place. Playing Call of Duty 3 is especially¬† difficult when hammered. Despite going on an impressive stabbing spree earlier on, it didn’t take long for me to get shot by the weakest enemies in the game, a sure sign to call it a night. Azeroth made sure that I got safely back to the hotel where the last few sober brain cells let me know that I should find out what the checkout time was.

New rule: if a hotel has a 10:00am checkout time they should have that in giant bold letters on the front of the building. 10:00 comes way too quickly when you have been out late drinking in the danger zone.

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